In early July, Charlene Orsi, who was from my neighboring town, was shot to death by her husband in their Wetumpka, Alabama home. The story is only too familiar, and has been covered, for the most part, in an all too routine way.
Charlene’s parents, after selling their home here in northern NY, moved south to live near their daughter, and Charlene’s four daughters, 12 year old triplets, and a 13 year old. They arrived on the day of an execution style murder scene in which their daughter was shot dead in her home, and her triplets lined up and shot multiple times. Bob Orsi then torched the gasoline soaked house. Two of the twins managed to find the door area and were pulled out by a lone policeman whom Adrianna, the older daughter had called after fleeing the burning home. Cadence, the other triplet, died of the gunshot wounds.
Nine days before, Charlene had filed for divorce on the grounds of incompatibility of temperament, which can, and most probably did, include verbal and physical abuse. The media has suggested that Bob Orsi’s suspected drug involvement was the actual cause of both the divorce attempt, and the murders.
However, I suspect there’s far more to the story. For Charlene not only petitioned for divorce, she had also filed for full custody of her four daughters. Her Facebook page is loaded with photos documenting each year of her children’s lives, including one taken a week before with her daughters seated on a rock in New York’s Central Park.
In 2014, when Charlene received her teaching certificate, she wrote: “I fell in love with being a part of children’s education.” And this is how she addressed the parents of her anticipated 3rd grade class at Redland Elementary:
“I feel I have the opportunity and responsibility to prepare your children for a year of active learning… Third grade is a very pivotal year for students. During their learning process they will take the bundle of knowledge they gained in K-2 and spin it into a meaningful connection to the world they live in. By the end of the year they will be ready to make the giant leap into 4th grade. You will notice huge growth in their independence, responsibility and depth of knowledge.”
She was obviously devoted to children and her custody claim must have driven home to Bob Orsi what he already knew: that his wife convincingly loved her daughters, that she was their prime protector, and that the four girls were inseparable from her.
The divorce only punctuated her autonomous stance. And to a man who equated family with the father, this was treason. That a woman and her young daughters, who were his very own possessions, could reject him was unthinkable and intolerable. That he needed to act out his uncontrollable rage would be, as it turned out, a vast understatement.
Charlene’s murder was not caused by a man with an incipient drug problem. But rather by a man who seriously tried to execute every member of his family to retaliate for his wife’s refusal to consent to her own and her four daughters’ destruction.
With the house ablaze, many neighbors reported hearing multiple pops and blasts, which the sheriff guessed were both ammunition and “other explosives.” These arms didn’t appear there overnight but were no doubt accumulated during the marriage. And what kind of a lethal marriage it was might be imagined. Can a father of four young children who turns his house into a cache of arms and incendiary chemicals be called protective? Can he be anything but contemptuous? Were the mother and daughters ever free from danger and menace, ever free from bodily harm, and were they ever in control of their own persons?
“Who would’ve thought a retired military fellow would try to kill his triplets and kill his wife, and then take his own life?” said Sheriff Franklin, whose own local vision might be excused, but how can that of the media be excused for its surface only coverage? Per usual, the simple concept of making connections seems to have been abandoned. No patterns were drawn upon; nothing on the persistence of the problem of battery and wife murder; and nothing on the continued inability of law enforcement to protect women and children in the home.
To the print and visual media, this atrocity was unrelated to the assailant’s military background or to his household weapons’ cache. The act was not an extension of military training and arming. The warrior as ultimate expression of machismo didn’t even cross their congregate mind. There was no questioning of the specific power this man had over his wife and daughters. No questioning of the age old concept of family privacy which allowed him to carry out his brutal onslaught.
To the media, this atrocity wasn’t even about women. The target of five females wasn’t enough to jolt such a possibility. Femicide? ‘Never heard of it.’ Feminist commentary? ‘Why would we consider that? It’s merely another domestic violence story, ending in death. ‘It’s not political in any way, right?’
Wrong. Always wrong. To not connect these acts with male domination is like not connecting one record-breaking storm after another with climate change. This is a form of denial which only intensifies and widens the waves of violence surrounding male tyranny.
And it only serves to minimize the violence done to the surviving children (two of whom underwent multiple surgeries to save their lives), to their severe trauma, to their fear of an assaultive father, to their being witnesses to the murder of their mother, and sister, and to their own near execution. They were close-knit, healthy, active girls under the tutelage of an independent, and courageous mom and now they are war casualties, faced with the daunting challenge of re-building lives permeated with violence and hatred.
Their mother, Charlene Ann Richards grew up here only a few miles from the home of Susan B. Anthony. It was Anthony who helped battered women physically escape from home violence. She understood the very roots of marriage, and the dangers, immediate and long-term, it imposed on women. She knew the mangled lives it produced, and she herself refused this stifling institution. She would have understood what Charlene, with her four years of Air Force service, and six years of exclusive mothering, didn’t, until it was too late, that male dominance is treacherous for females.